Beating life’s blows with courage and determination | Sunday Observer

Beating life’s blows with courage and determination

The dreary days were lightened only by the love and encouragement of family and her wonderful circle of friends who gave her the courage and determination to pick up the pieces and face a different life. Approximately ten months after the accident she was back to the Medical Faculty to continue with her studies

Dr. Samitha Samanmali created history by being the first Sri Lankan woman to win a medal at the Asian Para Rowing Championship 2019 held in Chungju, South Korea recently. She bagged a bronze. Even though it was the end of a hard day it was a cheerful, warmly smiling Dr. Samitha who greeted us at her home in Makuluduwa, Piliyandala.

Dr. Samitha’s life is one of monumental courage, grit and determination.

A carefree young girl confident of a bright future - an involvement with a Medical Faculty exhibition- (and unfortunately , she was in the wrong place at the wrong time) - a collapsed stall- and the girl suffered a disabling spinal cord injury.

This is the story of Dr. Govinnage Dona Samitha Samanmali , more popularly known as Dr. Samitha Samanmali. A straight A student she entered Gothami Balika Vidyalaya Maradana on the Year Five Scholarship exam from the Makuluduwa Kanishta Vidyalaya. At Gothami Vidyalaya she aced the GCE Advanced Level examination with three As and a high Z score to enter Colombo University’s Medical Faculty. All went well until she entered her third year at the Medical Faculty. This was 2008. In February that year she was involved with a Medical Faculty exhibition at the Bandaranaike International Conference Hall (BMICH). All of a sudden a stall collapsed on her and her young, happy life and dreams were shot to smithereens.

She spent several, dark despairing months in hospital. The dreary days were lightened only by the love and encouragement of family and her wonderful circle of friends gave her the courage and determination to pick up the pieces and face a different life. Approximately ten months after the accident she was back to the Medical Faculty to continue with her studies. She passed out as a doctor and did her internship at the National Hospital in Colombo. Thereafter, she joined the Health Education unit of the Ministry of health. While working here she did her Masters in Community Medicine at the Post graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM). After this she switched to the Community Medicine Unit and is now involved in policy planning, conducting programs and all other aspects of Community Medicine.

Meanwhile, this versatile young woman was eager not only to widen her horizons but to help others like her. She wanted to specialise in the field of disability and kept searching for a suitable course of study. She finally found one at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia but it was too expensive for her. Undeterred by this set back she shifted her attention to looking for a scholarship or similar means of financial support. It was then a recipient of the Australian Awards Scheme informed her about it. She applied and was granted a scholarship in 2017 to follow her choice of study- a Master of Disability Policy and Practice at Flinders University.

She travelled alone to Adelaide and found the transition a bit difficult at first. However, she soon got the hang of it. “Independence and inclusiveness for persons with disabilities are key in Australia” said Dr. Samitha. Once she got used to it she found life very much easier in Adelaide. For the first time I was able to do things independently and the feeling of the facilities for people with disabilities are wonderful” she enthused. Her mother came and kept her company for a year and then she was on her own but had friends to help her along the way. She indulged in the thrill of hitherto undreamt of recreational activities like underwater diving and sky diving. She also did swimming, a recreation she did at home too but found difficult owing to problems like accessibility pools. Driving was another thing she indulged in.

To further her aim of helping others like her, she built up a professional network and also interacted with the Sri Lankan community in Adelaide.

She revived the Sri Lankan Student Association at Flinders University and was its President from 2017-2018. She also volunteered at the Lion’s Club of Flinders University. On her return to Sri Lanka in December 2018, Samitha began to work again at the Youth Elderly and Disability Care unit at the Ministry of Health.

It was in January 2019 that a friend, Kanchana, got her interested in Para Rowing. At first, she went just for the fun of it. Then she realised the potential it had to enhance the lives of people like her and in her usual inimitable way put her best efforts into her training.

Training on the Diyawanna was grueling. She is very grateful to the Army who allowed them to use the Army Rowing Club and its facilities and also to the Army personnel who helped them in every conceivable way. Going for early morning training before work was indeed tough but she did it.

Her brother in law helped her in every way by driving her to and fro and in many other ways.

The meet was held at a lake in Chungju, South Kore Avenue for international rowing meets. On October 26, she rowed herself to victory and bagged a bronze.

She rowed in the PR 1 category. This was no mean feat as she had to battle extreme cold. The cold was so great that her fingers would become stiff. Jayakody of the Army also won kudos for himself by rowing in the PR 1 category for men. The other team members took part in a team event.

From South Korea she flew to Bhutan for yet training. This was a classification program for table tennis and archery for people with disabilities. She is now the National Classifier for archery.

She says life is hard but that she overcomes obstacles and doesn’t let them weigh her down.

She also says that there are several para sports and people with disabilities should participate as it will enhance their quality of life. She herself have experience this- for instance rowing has given her self confidence a tremendous boot. She appeals to parents to let their children participate in these sports they include rowing, tennis, table tennis, swimming and archery among others. She expressed much gratitude to the Army, General Ampemohotti of the National Para Olympic Committee, coaches Lasantha Welikala and Mangala Alagiyawanna and each and every one who helped her achieve her success.

She also recalled gratefully all who helped her during her time of need and those who still support her. Her undying gratitude goes to mother Leelawathi, Sister Tharanga Deepika and brother in law Jayantha and her two school boy nephews. Who are always there for her come what may.

Also her gratitude extends to friends and relatives, colleagues and superiors.

She has many plans for the future including the continuation of post graduate studies and advocacy and working to improve the lot of those with disabilities.

Dr Samitha Samanmali is an iconic role model not only for people with disabilities but for everyone, especially the young.

Youth Observer wishes her every success in her personal and professional life.